Like the variable spring weather we've been having, and the line from the Sting song, my students and I painted "all four seasons in one day" yesterday. The lesson, designed to help us break free of over-reliance on photographs, required that we first do a value study from a photograph or a painting we'd already done, and then use a new seasonal palette to recreate the composition and value structure in a different colourway. One of students re-created a summer scene as a fresh and vibrant spring scene, and another made an even more dramatic shift from a summer scene to a snowy winter scene! By following the basic composition and value structure, but replacing the colours, a new painting was possible without a new reference. When pursuing this exercise to its fullest and painting all four seasons, it's also interesting to vary the composition somewhat, by zooming in or cropping the original photo reference, or changing the format (from rectangular to square, for example) for a new painting.
Most importantly, moving away from the reference photo builds skills in terms of colour selection, value patterns, and drawing upon memory and observation of the natural world for your painting. All of these make for more original, more creative work, which is often more "painterly" and interpretive than your first work from a photo might be.
I've mislaid the original photo, but my first painting (done several years ago) was this one, The Little Grove in Summer (9 x 12"). Below are three new interpretations of the same scene.
(Shower of Gold, 8.5 x 11")
(Winter Coat 8.5 x 11")
(Easter Grass 9 x 12")